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Book: “Echo North” by Joanna Ruth Meyer
Publishing Info: Page Street Publishing Co., January 2019
Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!
Book Description: Echo Alkaev’s safe and carefully structured world falls apart when her father leaves for the city and mysteriously disappears. Believing he is lost forever, Echo is shocked to find him half-frozen in the winter forest six months later, guarded by a strange talking wolf—the same creature who attacked her as a child. The wolf presents Echo with an ultimatum: If she lives with him for one year, he will ensure her father makes it home safely. But there is more to the wolf than Echo realizes.
In his enchanted house beneath a mountain, each room must be sewn together to keep the home from unraveling, and something new and dark and strange lies behind every door. When centuries-old secrets unfold, Echo discovers a magical library full of books-turned-mirrors, and a young man named Hal who is trapped inside of them. As the year ticks by, the rooms begin to disappear, and Echo must solve the mystery of the wolf’s enchantment before her time is up, otherwise Echo, the wolf, and Hal will be lost forever.
Review: I’ve always loved the fairytale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” but for some reason, it’s one of those stories that has proven difficult to adapt and reimagine. I’ve read quite a few re-tellings over the years but have never found one that really clicked for me. But hope springs eternal, so I’ve had my eyes on this one for a bit. When I saw that there was a companion book coming out in May, I knew now was the time so that I’d have a chance to read that one, too, if I ended up liking it. Well, I have my ARC in hand for book two, so there’s your spoiler for what I thought of this book ultimately!
Echo believes her father is lost forever when he leaves home and doesn’t return for six months. So she is shocked to discover him one day in the woods, near death. More surprising still, he is guarded by a talking wolf who promises to save her father if Echo comes and lives with him for a year. She agrees and so starts a year filled with magical wonders and horrors, all found in a mysterious house within a hill. There, Echo grows closer and closer to the wolf and a mysterious man found in the magical library. But she strains against some of the magical rules of this realm, and when she breaks one near the end of her time, she begins an entirely new adventure.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve read a decent number of adaptations of this fairytale. One of the particular challenges of this story, I think, is the turn it takes about halfway through the tale. The heroine is instructed to never look at the face of the man who sleeps beside her every night. And then, of course, she does, and this is what sets off the second act of the story where she must travel north to battle the troll queen to save her love. So it’s a bit challenging to write a heroine who is doomed to make what seems like a really silly mistake. Of all the magical challenges that you see heroes/heroines tasked with in fairytales, simply not looking at someone at night is about as easy as it gets. And the reasoning for these heroines making this mistake is often weak and hard to recover from. But that’s one of the best things this book did!
Echo’s story is different than the classic tale in a few ways, and I don’t want to spoil them all here. But I do think the author did a much better job than her contemporaries have for providing Echo with a reason for making this mistake. It’s both understandable and doesn’t harm our perception of her going forward. Instead, it’s easy to understand making the exact same decision she does, given the circumstances of her year in the magical house and her connection with the wolf and mysterious man she meets in the library regularly.
The story also took a very surprising twist in the final third of the book. I don’t want to spoil it, so I can’t say much about it. But it was an aspect of the story that I didn’t see coming at all, and one that also managed to tie up a few loose ends that I had been wondering about previously. There was, however, another revelation that came about in this twist that I thought impacted the romance in a pretty negative way. The book works through Echo’s thoughts and feelings pretty well, but as a reader, I was less forgiving of the fall-out of this twist than she seemed to be. It left a kind of sour note in my mouth, all the more disappointing because it came right at the end as the story seemed to be ready to end on a super high note.
Overall, despite this last second reveal that I disliked, the book was an excellent retelling of this fairytale. Definitely the best one I’ve read so far (I’ll just scrub my mind of that last little bit). That being the case, I’m very excited to read the second book! We briefly meet the protagonist of that story here, and her situation seems just as compelling. Fans of fairytale retellings should definitely check this one out!
Rating 8: Despite a misstep at the end (a very subjective one, at that), the best “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” story I’ve read so far!